Abhi to the rescue!

Countless animals right from mighty elephants to tiny frogs lose their lives to reckless, speeding vehicles each year in India. Photo: Sanjay Gubbi.

Abhi looks out the window from the backseat. He and his parents are on their way to his grandmother’s house in the village. They’re driving through a road that runs along a forest. He daydreams about the village, the emerald trees that whisper sha-sha-sha in the wind, the murmur of the river, the fireflies that float around the house like sparks of crackling wood in a bonfire.

He sees a large brown bag with dark liquid oozing out of it on the road in the distance. As they move closer to it, he sees it move a little. It’s definitely not a bag, he thinks.

He shouts out a warning, and his father stops the car. He runs out towards the thing on the road, his mother following close behind.

It’s a snake! And it’s badly hurt. Its tail is covered in blood and it lies motionless near criss-cross imprints of tyres. Abhi is careful; he doesn’t get too close.

“We must do something,” Abhi says. “We must try and save the poor snake!”

He looks around worriedly. Ah! He sees a signboard with a picture of a leopard on it. “CALL THIS NUMBER IF YOU SEE AN INJURED ANIMAL” it says in big, bold letters. Seized with hope, he takes his mother’s phone and dials the number.

“Hello, there’s… there’s a snake badly hurt on the road! I don’t know if it’s alive or… Please can you save it?” he pleads. His mother takes the phone and tells the lady the location and the number of their car so that they can easily find them. The voice on the phone promises to be there in ten minutes.

They wait in the car. Abhi admires the irregular patchwork of brown hues on the snake’s back. It looks as though a piece of paper which was once crumpled and torn was now put together like a jigsaw puzzle. Earlier, he was certain he had seen it move, but he isn’t too sure anymore.

Soon enough, a khaki-coloured gypsy pulls over right next to them. Three people get off, and two men start examining the snake. Ira, a young researcher, walks towards them and starts talking to his parents. Abhi watches as they carefully lift the snake and place it inside a wooden box.

“Its eyes are open… that surely means its alive right?” asks Abhi, his eyebrows crumpled with concern.

“Snakes don’t have eyelids, so their eyes are always open. You did the right thing, Abhi. We can’t thank you enough. We will do everything we can. Dr. Mishra here is a very skilled veterinarian and he has handled many injured pythons before.”

Wow! A python, thinks Abhi, and looks tenderly at the beautiful, wounded creature, now curled inside the box. And just as they are about to pick it up, he sees the snake tuck its head in its coils.

“It’s alive!” Abhi squeals. “It’s alive Ma, I saw it move! I saw it turn its head!”

(Continued next week…)

•Highways that pass through forests often prove to be fatal to wildlife.

•Hundreds of wild animals are killed by speeding vehicles each year in India, and they include elephants, tigers, sloth bears, snakes, frogs, and many others.

•Between July 2009 and June 2014, as many as 23 leopards were killed in road accidents in Karnataka alone.

• Reptiles and amphibians are known to be the most affected by vehicular traffic, but there is very little information available on such accidents.

•It’s very important to follow the speed limit and to be extra cautious and alert while driving through ecologically important areas.

Source: TH


#17, #2015, #august

Stones pelted at a chemical factory in Nellore

Some sections of local leaders and residents pelted stones at a chemical factory located near Chandrapadia village in Vinjamur mandal limits here on Sunday night which caused damage to furniture and window panes.

On information provided by the management, the Vinjamur police launched action and reportedly took into custody 10 persons in connection with the alleged vandalism.

Sources said that there has been a long-standing agitation by some local leaders against the Nutra Specialties factory. Their contention was that the chemical effluents from the factory were polluting their village and surrounding areas and the situation would aggravate in the near future.

However, the factory ruled out any harm from their side to the environment and asserted that all steps had been taken in this regard. The issue was discussed at the district officials’ level but the differences continued.

Source: TH

#17, #2015, #august

Sodium cyanide traces found in waters near site of China blasts

Indication that it has spread to the sea, even as experts raced against time to clear the area of toxic chemicals stored at the ravaged warehouse

Smoke rises from damaged container boxes near the site of an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality on Monday. Minute traces of cyanide have been detected in waters near the Tianjin port, the State Oceanic Administration said acknowledging that it was spreading into the waters of the port which is on the western shore of the Bohai Bay.

Minute traces of sodium cyanide have been found in waters near China’s Tianjin port indicating that it has spread to the sea, even as experts raced against time to clear the area of toxic chemicals stored at a warehouse ravaged by blasts that killed at least 114 people.

Minute traces of cyanide have been detected in waters near the Tianjin port, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said acknowledging that it was spreading into the waters of the port which is on the western shore of the Bohai Bay. The findings were based on monitoring reports from Sunday, according to the SOA.

Sodium cyanide is a highly toxic white, water-soluble powder that prevents the body from using oxygen.

Density below normal

The detected density of the dangerous chemical was below the normal standard and does not pose a threat to the marine environment for the time being, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Bao Jingling, chief engineer of Tianjin’s bureau of environmental protection, said about 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide stored at the blasts site remained mostly unaffected.

Death toll: 114

The death toll from the massive blasts last week rose to 114 after rescuers found two more bodies in the debris, Gong Jiansheng of Tianjin’s publicity department told reporters.

Identities of 54 bodies have been confirmed, he said, adding that another 70 people were still missing.

Among the bodies, 39 were fire-fighters and five were policemen. The number of missing people was previously 95, before 25 bodies were identified. Among the missing are 64 firemen, Mr. Gong said.

Rescuers have carried out four rounds of comprehensive search through what they called “a maze of containers” and search and rescue efforts are still under way.

Fraught with danger

“Navigating through the blasts zone is extremely dangerous because of the burning chemicals and twisted containers, which could collapse at any time. We had to make marks in order not to get lost,” Wang Ke, who led a group of chemical specialist soldiers, said.

Two massive blasts before midnight on August 12 wreaked havoc in areas a few kilometres away.

The blasts have affected 17,000 households and 1,700 enterprises. At least 6,000 residents have been displaced.

Combing for survivors

Soldiers are combing nearby residential quarters to search for survivors and their search has covered 6,000 households so far. As of Monday, 698 people remained in hospital, of whom 57 were in a critical condition.

More than 4,000 medical staff are treating the injured and 77 people have been discharged from hospitals.

Meanwhile, a minor explosion occurred on Monday at the blasts site hampering rescue operations.

Source: TH

#17, #2015, #august

Wild boars are gaining ground

The wild boar population in Europe is growing. However, the reasons for this growth were not yet clear. Scientists have now found that climate change plays a major role. The number of wild boars grows particularly after mild winters, suggesting that food availability is a decisive factor.

More wild boars after mild winters

Vetter and his colleagues compared annual wild boar population growth to temperature and precipitation data from twelve European countries, with data being available for up to 150 years in some regions. They identified a clear trend. “There is a sharp increase in the number of wild boars after mild winters. As mild winters are becoming more frequent, also wild boar populations are growing exponentially,” Vetter explains.

One reason is thermoregulation. If temperatures are very low, a lot of energy is necessary in order to maintain a high body temperature. As a consequence, less energy is available for reproduction and rearing the offspring in the following year. Furthermore, harsh winters claim the lives of many young animals. In warmer winters, more piglets survive.

Availability of feed makes hard winters bearable

Wild boars mainly feed on beechnuts and acorns. In so-called mast years when these trees bear a lot of fruits there is abundant feed available for the pigs. Such mast years occur in irregular intervals and, during the last decades, increasingly frequent. If a harsh winter is preceded by a mast year, the animals have enough energy for thermoregulation. The population can continue to grow despite unfavourable temperatures.

Regional differences affect wild boar populations

A wild boar population only grows in the following season if the average temperature during winter has reached a certain threshold. In southern regions this threshold is higher than in the north. “These regional differences are due to the animals’ body size. Wild boars in the south are smaller than those in the north. This changes the relation of body surface and volume and hence heat dissipation. Being small is unfavourable in the cold but thermoregulatory beneficial during hot southern summers. Regionally differing body size of wild boar is the reason why population growth began virtually simultaneously throughout Europe, despite considerable differences in winter temperatures,” Vetter explains.

Vetter and the research team at FIWI working with wild boars are going to continue their research in this field. “Wild boars produce a surprisingly large number of young animals compared to other ungulates. This enables the strong growth of populations which we are currently observing. Therefore we are particularly interested in the factors that influence reproduction of this species,” Vetter underlines.

 Source: SD

#17, #2015, #august

Greenland ice sheet’s winds driving tundra soil erosion, study finds

Strong winds blowing off the Greenland Ice Sheet are eroding soil and vegetation in the surrounding tundra, making it less productive for caribou and other grazing animals, carbon storage and nutrient cycling, a study finds.

Arctic soils are a critical but fragile ecological resource threatened by wildfire, permafrost degradation and other climate-related disturbances that are well studied. But wind-driven soil erosion has not been well documented, especially in western Greenland where it poses the greatest threat to soil stability.

The findings appear in the journal Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

“Understanding the current distribution of wind-eroded patches is a first step toward a more complete picture of regional wind erosion and its ecological impacts, especially as the Arctic continues to experience rapid environmental change and warming temperatures,” says lead author Ruth Heindel, a Ph.D. student in Dartmouth’s Department of Earth Sciences and a fellow in the IGERT Polar Environmental Change program.

The researchers used satellite imagery and remote sensing techniques to analyze wind erosion in the Kangerlussuaq region of western Greenland, where bare ground patches around the ice sheet are much less productive than the surrounding landscape. The region’s soils have developed on a layer of loess, or loose sediment that is easily eroded by the wind.

The researchers wanted to know if soil erosion is controlled by proximity to the ice sheet or by the lay of the land, including the direction and steepness of nearby hillsides. In addition, they considered whether bare patches near the ice sheet are similar in size, distribution and denudation as those farther away since wind patterns, vegetation and climate all vary with distance from the ice sheet. Winds blowing off the ice sheet tend to be drier and colder than those coming off the fjord.

Results showed that bare patches covered 22 percent of the land in the study area, ranging in size from about 100 square feet to more than 1,000 square feet. The bare patches were more widespread near the ice sheet but restricted to steep south-facing slopes farther away from the ice sheet. This pattern suggests that strong downslope winds blowing off the ice sheet are responsible for the soil erosion. In addition, the eroded patches close to the ice sheet contain less vegetation than those farther away.

The vegetation around the eroded areas is a mixture of shrubs and grasses, but grasses dominate within the eroded patches. Across the Arctic, shrub species are expanding into grass habitat, but the new findings show how wind erosion may limit the spread of shrubs by providing better habitat for grasses or an environment dominated by lichens, mosses, cyanobacteria and microfungi.

The findings are a snapshot of current soil erosion in western Greenland rather than an analysis of changes over time, which the researchers are currently conducting. The Greenland Ice Sheet has experienced record melting in recent years, but it is relatively stable in western Greenland. If the ice sheet retreats in this region, soil erosion is expected to be more restricted to steep south-facing slopes, but the already bare patches could remain denuded for a long time.

Source: SD

#17, #2015, #august

Ascent or no ascent? How hot material is stopped in Earth’s mantle

Gigantic volumes of hot material rising from the deep earth’s mantle to the base of the lithosphere have shaped the face of our planet. Provided they have a sufficient volume, they can lead to break-up of continents or cause mass extinction events in certain periods of the Earth’s history. So far it was assumed that because of their high temperatures those bodies — called mantle plumes — ascend directly from the bottom of the earth’s mantle to the lithosphere. Scientists explain possible barriers for the ascent of these mantle plumes and under which conditions the hot material can still reach the surface. In addition, the researchers resolve major conflicts surrounding present model predictions.

The largest magmatic events on Earth are caused by massive melting of ascending large volumes of hot material from Earth’s interior. The surface manifestations of these events in Earth’s history are still visible in form of the basaltic rocks of Large Igneous Provinces. The prevailing concept of mantle plumes so far was that because of their high temperatures, they have strongly positive buoyancy that causes them to ascend and uplift the overlying Earth’s surface by more than one kilometer. In addition, it was assumed that these mantle plumes are mushroom-shaped with a large bulbous head and a much thinner tail with a radius of only 100 km, acting as an ascent channel for new material. But here is the problem: In many cases, this concept does not agree with geological and geophysical observations, which report much wider zones of ascending material and much smaller surface uplift.

The solution is to incorporate observations from plate tectonics: In many places on Earth’s surface, such as in the subduction zones around the Pacific, ocean floor sinks down into Earth’s mantle. Apparently, this material descends up to a great depth in Earth’s mantle over several millions of years. This former ocean floor has a different chemical composition than the surrounding Earth’s mantle, leading to a higher density. If this material is entrained by mantle plumes, which is indicated by geochemical analyses of the rocks of Large Igneous Provinces, the buoyancy of the plume will decrease. However, this opens up the question if this hot material is still buoyant enough to rise all the way from the bottom of Earth’s mantle to the surface.

GFZ-researcher Juliane Dannberg: “Our computer simulations show that on the one hand, the temperature difference between the plume and the surrounding mantle has to be high enough to trigger the ascent of the plume. On the other hand, a minimum volume is required to cross a region in the upper mantle where the prevailing pressures and temperatures lead to minerals with a much higher density than the surrounding rocks.”

Under these conditions, mantles plumes with very low buoyancy can develop, preventing them from causing massive volcanism and environmental catastrophes, but instead making them pond inside of Earth’s mantle. However, mantle plumes that are able to ascend through the whole mantle are much wider, remain in Earth’s mantle for hundreds of millions of years and only uplift the surface by a few hundred meters, which agrees with observations.

Source: SD

#17, #2015, #august

‘Brainy’ mice raise hope of better treatments for cognitive disorders

Researchers have created unusually intelligent mice by altering a single gene and as a result the mice were also less likely to feel anxiety or recall fear.

It sheds light on the molecular underpinnings of learning and memory and could form the basis for research into new treatments for age-related cognitive decline, cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia, and other conditions.

The researchers altered a gene in mice to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-4B (PDE4B), which is present in many organs of the vertebrate body, including the brain.

In behavioural tests, the PDE4B-inhibited mice showed enhanced cognitive abilities.

They tended to learn faster, remember events longer and solve complex exercises better than ordinary mice.

For example, the “brainy mice” showed a better ability than ordinary mice to recognise another mouse that they had been introduced to the day before. They were also quicker at learning the location of a hidden escape platform in a test called the Morris water maze.

However, the PDE4B-inhibited mice also showed less recall of a fearful event after several days than ordinary mice.

The published findings are limited to mice and have not been tested in humans, but PDE4B is present in humans. The diminished memory of fear among mice with inhibited PDE4B could be of interest to researchers looking for treatments for pathological fear, typified by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The PDE4B-inhibited mice also showed less anxiety. They spent more time in open, brightly-lit spaces than ordinary mice, which preferred dark, enclosed spaces.

Ordinary mice are naturally fearful of cats, but the PDE4B-inhibited mice showed a decreased fear response to cat urine, suggesting that one effect of inhibiting PDE4B could be an increase in risk-taking behaviour.

So, while the PDE4B-inhibited mice excelled at solving complex exercises, their low levels of anxiety could be counterproductive for a wild mouse.

Dr Steve Clapcote, Lecturer in Pharmacology in the University of Leeds’ School of Biomedical Sciences, led the study. He said: “Cognitive impairments are currently poorly treated, so I’m excited that our work using mice has identified phosphodiesterase-4B as a promising target for potential new treatments.”

The researchers are now working on developing drugs that will specifically inhibit PDE4B. These drugs will be tested in animals to see whether any would be suitable for clinical trials in humans.

Dr Alexander McGirr, a psychiatrist in training at the University of British Columbia, who co-led the study, said: “”In the future, medicines targeting PDE4B may potentially improve the lives of individuals with neurocognitive disorders and life-impairing anxiety, and they may have a time-limited role after traumatic events.”

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, who were not involved in the study, said:

“This study highlights a potentially important role for the PDE4B gene in learning and memory in mice, but further studies will be needed to know whether the findings could have implications for Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. We’d need to see how this gene could influence memory and thinking in people to get a better idea of whether it could hold potential as a target to treat Alzheimer’s.

“There is currently a lack of effective treatments for dementia and understanding the effect of genes can be a key early step on the road to developing new drugs. With so many people affected by dementia, it is important that there is research into a wide array of treatment approaches to have the best chance of helping people sooner.”

Source: SD

#17, #2015, #august